Anoop Jain on Sanitation and Infrastructure in India

Shruti Rajagopalan and Anoop Jain discuss the need for accessible toilets in India and the public and private obstacles to their building and maintenance

This episode is the fourth installment of a series in which Shruti speaks with doctoral candidates and postdoctoral scholars about their research as they enter the job market and the world of academia. In this episode, Shruti talks with Anoop Jain about his paper, “‘Someone Should Be There To Take Care of It’: A Case Study of Users’ Views of Managed Shared Sanitation Facilities in Jharkhand, India.” They discuss whether toilets should be private or shared, who should build and maintain shared toilets, the need for better infrastructure and much more. Jain is the founding director of Sanitation and Health Rights in India, an organization that fights to eliminate open defecation throughout India. He has an M.P.H. from Tulane University and received his Doctor of Public Health from UC Berkeley in 2019. He is now a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School, where his research examines the combined effects of multiple deprivations faced by households on population-level health outcomes.

SHRUTI RAJAGOPALAN: Welcome to Ideas of India, where we examine the academic ideas that can propel India forward. My name is Shruti Rajagopalan, and I am a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. This is the 2022 job market series, where I speak with young scholars entering the academic job market about their latest research. I spoke with Anoop Jain, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School and the founding director of Sanitation and Health Rights in India. Anoop received his doctorate in public health from University of Berkley in 2019. We discussed his paper titled ‘Someone Should Be There To Take Care of It’: A Case Study of Users’ Views of Managed Shared Sanitation Facilities in Jharkhand, India.” We talked about accessibility and management of shared toilets, the larger governance issues that need to be resolved in public sanitation, granularity of governance solutions, local clusters and much more.

For a full transcript of this conversation, including helpful links of all the references mentioned, click the link in the show notes or visit

Hi, Anoop. Thanks so much for being here. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

ANOOP JAIN: Thank you so much, Shruti. It’s great to be on the show. Thank you so much.

Building and Maintaining Accessible Toilets

RAJAGOPALAN: I am super excited by the space you’re working in more generally because the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been one of the really major campaigns in recent times. And the goal of India focusing more on public sanitation, especially reducing open defecation and making India “open defecation free” has been a long-time goal, but it’s suddenly on steroids in the last decade or so, right?

JAIN: Yes.

RAJAGOPALAN: You look at toilet use and open defecation, and the two are obviously highly related. If you look at it in the state of Jharkhand, what you find is that, unlike people like us who are talking about how many private bathrooms we have in a particular household, for most people in India for whom open defecation is even within the realm of possibility, the question is one of a private toilet within the household, or in the backyard or something like that, or a shared toilet within that particular community.

Now, whether it’s a question of a private toilet or a shared toilet, the key issue is one of accessibility and maintenance because this is obviously something that needs to be used every day. It can’t itself become a den of infection and disease, and you zero in on the management of shared toilets as the key question to resolve with this particular paper. Can you walk me through the management of shared toilets in this particular instance and how that fits into the bigger question of what India’s trying to solve from a policy point of view?

JAIN: Absolutely, thanks for that great question, Shruti. I’ll back up a little bit and say my parents are from India. I was born in North America, but I started working there in 2010 with community activists in rural Bihar. At the time, we were trying to serve the needs of the local community with different public health interventions.

We settled on sanitation, given just how many people were defecating in the open. The issue was always, okay, we want to build private household toilets, but in rural Bihar, even though it’s not peri-urban or urban India, people don’t have enough dwelling space for a toilet. The average family in Bihar has 5 people. The average amount of dwelling space they own is 370 square feet. It’s very small, so they don’t have enough space for it. They can’t afford to build it, so where are they going to have a private toilet? Even with Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, having a private toilet becomes really quite problematic.

We decided we’re going to, as an organization, focus on shared sanitation facilities and make those available. We’ve been doing that since 2014. We have now 11 facilities, and we’re serving 7,000 people, but what we realized since becoming operational is the importance of ongoing maintenance and sustainability. That is a key predictor to use. When we talk about access, we’re not simply conceptualizing access as, is this physically available nearby, or can I get to it? But access should also mean, is it something that I want to use? Am I comfortable using it?

If you look at the Swachh Bharat policy guidelines since 2014, the government has, to their credit, invested however many lakh crore rupees in infrastructure. Building a toilet is relatively easy, whether it is public, community-shared or private. What the government has not invested in is maintenance systems. Sanitation is not the only big infrastructure item that we see where this is a problem in India. I think half of Bangalore is underwater right now because of poor infrastructure.

This is just a chronic problem in the history of development in India. The identification of a lack of infrastructure is one thing, but then ensuring that that infrastructure is well maintained and sustained over time, that is a gap that has yet to be filled. In particular, we’re seeing that with sanitation, even with private toilets. We see—however many toilets in Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it will be really interesting to see in a couple of years, what is the state of those toilets?

If it’s a poor household, do they have the money to fix it—if the roof breaks, if the door breaks, if the pit fills. And the same thing with shared sanitation. Is the central government distributing funds to state and local governments to maintain shared toilets? That is going to be a key question moving forward. Particularly as urbanization in India continues to intensify and communities become increasingly dense, and shared sanitation becomes increasingly necessary, we have to find the systems to maintain and sustain those facilities.

Obstacles to Shared Toilets

RAJAGOPALAN: You’ve told us a little bit about the kinds of roadblocks that prevent private toilets. It’s a lack of space. Very often, it’s a caste question. Even if there is a latrine that can be added to the space, they don’t want it inside the dwelling. They want it outside the dwelling.

But when it comes to shared toilets, what are the major roadblocks? Is it that India has not invested in its sanitation workers? Is it that local-level governance is broken, whether it’s our urban local bodies, Panchayati Raj systems? Because things like garbage disposal and toilet use are basically highly local problems. It’s not like Prime Minister Modi can actually fix this at the Union government level.

Is that the problem? Is it a question of not having good systems of pay-per-use? Because normally, when you’re going to areas which are not that populated, like highways in Europe or highways in the middle of the United States, you have restroom facilities which are pay-per-use. I see that in big cities with Sulabh Shauchalaya and things like that in India, but is that the question on an everyday level for a shared toilet?

Is it that the private sector does not want to enter the space? Is it about caste, that members of different castes will not go to the same shared toilet? What are the relevant roadblocks and the really binding constraint? I know all of these are factors.

JAIN: Yes, you raised a lot of great points in that question, Shruti. I’ll start addressing them one by one. I think you’re right, public toilets are being made available in places like Western Europe and the United States. Some of my colleagues, Jay Graham and Heather Amato at UC Berkeley, just published a paper on the need of public toilets in San Francisco. There’s unfortunately a big unhoused population in San Francisco. They don’t have the necessary availability and access to sanitation services.

What they’ve found is increasing access to free public toilets for vulnerable populations decreases the spread of fecal contamination. And as an organization, our facilities are free to use. We don’t want to impose a financial barrier on India’s most vulnerable populations. When we’re talking about targeting the poorest or the bottom of the pyramid, I think not imposing a financial barrier is important because otherwise, that will be a barrier to use. So that’s part of it.

In terms of the caste question and the religious question, many of our facilities are located in very mixed communities, mixed-caste, mixed-religious communities in rural Bihar, rural Jharkhand, and we don’t see any issues with that. That’s been a really interesting insight as well.

Looking from a macro perspective, I think part of the issue with shared sanitation is if you look at the World Health Organization’s Joint Monitoring Program for Water and Sanitation, shared sanitation is not considered improved. Part of that is due to concerns around the ability to maintain, manage and keep hygienic these facilities. Basically, people are concerned, policymakers are concerned that they’ll just get really dirty and it’ll cause even more disease essentially.

Governments have very little incentive to invest in that infrastructure. That is a major policy barrier right now, and my colleagues and I are working on building that evidence base to say, “Wait a second. When we’re talking about moving people up the sanitation ladder away from open defecation, particularly in places like rural or peri-urban India, where there are all these structural barriers to private toilet use, shared sanitation has to be considered.”

It’s not just about preventing child illness or child mortality. Yes, we do care about that, but there is an emerging body of literature—Bethany Caruso at Emory, for example—that looks extensively at the psychosocial associations between sanitation access and the associations between anxiety, depression, stress, et cetera. There’s this intrinsic value to sanitation, whether it’s shared or private, and that’s something that we really need to focus on as a stepping stone up away from open defecation, up the sanitation ladder.

I think those are some of the big barriers. Then the other barrier I will say is, yes, Prime Minister Modi isn’t the one who’s going to go out and build or clean a toilet, certainly. And yet government, even at the local level, they are nervous to invest in shared sanitation because they don’t want to invest money in something that six months from now is just going to be crumbling or dirty. There really needs to be a roadmap for systems of monitoring and accountability that instill confidence in the government to invest in this infrastructure.

Bigger Governance Concerns

RAJAGOPALAN: It’s interesting the way you’ve set it up. It’s such an interesting puzzle. When I think about India, from an economic lens, especially in terms of density of population and agglomeration, it seems like a shared toilet is just such an obviously good idea. This is a big public investment, but in India, whether it’s a bus service or a metro or a shared toilet, you know that hundreds of people are going to actually use it. You’ll easily recover your investment.

It’s actually interesting when you say that local governments are nervous about not being able to recover their investment, not from a revenue perspective, but from the point of view of bad publicity and an eyesore, that we know that we don’t have the state capacity to maintain this. We don’t have a good infrastructure of sanitation workers. We don’t have good monitoring mechanisms.

I’ve seen this in the literature, in the primary health services that governments run. Typically, the major problem is that they don’t have electricity. They don’t have the electricity to run their basic machines for oxygen or to have an X-ray test and things like that. They’re able to actually get the X-ray machine to the local dispensary or the healthcare facility. It’s just everything that follows.

It just feels like there’s a much bigger, broader governance question that needs to be resolved. If they resolve that, then shared toilets will automatically be one of the first things to get resolved because it’s just such an obvious solution.

JAIN: Yes, absolutely. I was part of a study, when I was doing my Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, that was a broader study that was looking at providing Anganwadi workers with a digital tool to improve their service delivery. As a sub-study, I was leading an effort to understand Anganwadi worker time use in Madhya Pradesh. They have all of these activities that they’re supposed to do at the Anganwadi every day with kids and mothers, et cetera, and home visits.

We worked with this enumeration firm to understand how are they actually allocating their time. It’s obvious; all the stories with MGNREGA and all of that, we know that payment systems are not working for workers. We saw the same thing with Anganwadi workers. There were—and this is in Madhya Pradesh—Anganwadi workers saying, “I haven’t been paid in six months.” “I haven’t been paid in 12 months.” “I haven’t been paid in 18 months.”

With sanitation workers, it’s often the same thing. In Jharkhand where we work, there’s a facility in the same community where we work, and that was run by the government. And the workers there said, “We haven’t been paid in so long, we don’t show up to work anymore.” It’s those human systems that really need refinement and really need to be evaluated and strengthened in order for service delivery to work the way it’s supposed to work.

Missing Infrastructure

RAJAGOPALAN: Absolutely. It’s one of those funny things that you’ve zeroed in on shared toilets and maintenance because if you can solve that puzzle, you’ve automatically solved 15 other governance puzzles that plague garbage disposal and health, and in this case, midwifery and so many other things.

I just want to switch gears for a minute. It seems like there are two parts to the private toilet. One is just basically what’s going on within the household. Can the household afford the space? Can they afford a plumber to come and a mason to build this out, or can they afford to actually integrate the subsidy given by the government into their dwelling unit and so on?

At India’s current level of development, it feels that was pretty doable. India’s not sub-Saharan Africa. We’re already at a level of development where integrating a toilet into a dwelling shouldn’t be that hard. To me, it seems like even for private toilets, the challenge is much bigger. Do these dwellings have piped indoor water delivery? Are they actually connected to a sewage system?

Because if those two things are not there, then suddenly the cost of integrating the toilet and running it, both the economic cost but also the social cost—who’s going to clean this, is it going to be inside the house, going to be outside the house—suddenly just skyrockets. It, again, feels like there’s a broader governance, public-service-delivery question at that local level for the poorest groups which is not pushing India towards higher levels of private toilet adoption.

JAIN: Yes, absolutely. For that, you have to go back in history to see the arc of how India’s sanitation policies had been designed since 1986. That’s when the first big national sanitation program was installed. There have been several versions of it since, and most of them have been really underpinned by demand-side theories.

They adopt this very neoliberal approach where they say, “Well, the poor need to demand a toilet.” They’re really influenced by community-led total sanitation, Robert Chambers, Kamal Kar, in Bangladesh in 1999, who developed this saying, “We don’t want any financial subsidies to the poor for sanitation. We just want to trigger them, using behavior change, to demand a toilet.” And the Indian government, and governments around the world, really took that to heart because why wouldn’t they? It’s like, okay, well, we don’t have to invest any money. If the poor don’t do it, it’s their problem.

The Indian government understood, we can’t have it be completely zero subsidy because no one will be able to afford it then. Instead, what we’re going to do is we’re going to provide a 12,000-rupee incentive as a part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. And yet 12,000 rupees in this day and age, even in rural Bihar—I mean, I’ve been working there since 2010; 12,000 rupees is not going to build you a full toilet. That’s maybe 10 days of labor. You’d forget about the materials, forget about building a big pit, all of those things.

From a government policy standpoint, it is still—and if you look at the updated version of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan policy guidelines from 2020 to 2021, the language is still very much about creating demand, shifting behaviors, assuming that people can just pay for the construction. And then, to your point, it doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that there’s no centralized waste management system. There is no piped sewer network. There is no piped water to the facility, which is so important for flushing, self-cleaning, et cetera. You have all of these large gaps. Sanitation is so tricky because—it’s not a bed net. It’s not a bed net, and I fear that we keep thinking of it as a bed net.

RAJAGOPALAN: Absolutely.

JAIN: It just needs so much more supporting infrastructure around it. When we think about behavior change in public health, we want to make the barrier to changing behavior as low as possible, right?


JAIN: My relatives in urban India, middle-class folks, they all have sewer networks, et cetera. Why is it that the poor in India don’t have that? The common response to that is, “Well, there’s too many people. The population’s too big.”

Well, if you look at rural Bihar, the population is very dense, and there could be investments made in some of the supporting infrastructure that would make it easier for folks to have a toilet. Even with the private toilet landscape, we’re finding that there’s just not enough in the way of support that will truly incentivize that shift in behavior for people to adopt a private toilet, and then use it consistently.

RAJAGOPALAN: The funny thing when people say stuff about, “Oh, India is too populated, and there are too many people, and it’s too dense”—funnily enough, that’s great news for toilets and sewage systems because these things run on scale. They have a very high fixed cost. They have very low marginal cost, so having a large population and density is actually a great thing for specific investments, in particular sewage systems. It’s very hard to build a sewage system that can cover all of South Dakota or Idaho, where there’s virtually no one who lives there—

JAIN: Exactly.

RAJAGOPALAN: —and then the average cost is too high. And in India, we can monetize it differently. It seems almost like the private toilet subsidy is that last-mile marginal cost which they assume should be given, as if all the other things that needed to function in terms of public goods service delivery already existed, and they didn’t. That’s why it’s so clear from your work why the government intervention, though well-intentioned, has just not produced the results that it needs to produce.

Benefits of Specific Interventions

RAJAGOPALAN: More generally speaking, are toilets a good policy intervention goal? I know public health and sanitation is, but it seems like at least the broader trends in India—and you can shine more light on specific questions—as Indians grew richer, they moved up the ladder of sanitation. They got better at getting access to better public goods, better sanitation, their children live longer, better nutrition.

Is this problem only going to get solved by focusing very, very strongly on economic growth in these areas in a way that a single intervention like toilets, it’s never going to be quite enough? Which is not to say it shouldn’t be pursued, and sometimes it’s low-hanging fruit. But where are you on this spectrum of moving up the sanitation ladder?

JAIN: That’s a great question. I firmly believe that everyone should have access to a toilet, whether it’s private or shared, but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking. That’s just from a human rights perspective, but again, I don’t think that’s what you’re asking. I think you are touching on something that’s really been on my mind recently. If we look at it from a public health perspective—I’m a social epidemiologist by training. And so much of the literature in social epidemiology, the early pioneers of the field, we think about the web of causation. You have these intricate webs, and say you have a disease outcome like tuberculosis, you can map out all the various chains and links that lead to tuberculosis.

The predominant idea in epidemiology is, if we cut off one of those links, then we cut off the chain of transmission to TB. As social epidemiologists, we just don’t buy that. It’s so complicated. From a public health perspective, do I think that sanitation alone is going to change child health or maternal health? No, I don’t. We’ve seen that in the WASH Benefits trial from Bangladesh and Kenya, which was published in the Lancet in 2018. We saw that in the SHINE trial from Zimbabwe, which was published in the Lancet in 2019.

We see that simply investing in private toilets, even in these really gold-standard rigorous, cluster randomized control trials, it’s not improving health. That should not be shocking, because if you’re working in rural Bihar, and the child is exposed to not only not having a toilet, but fecal contamination from animals, no solid floor, no electricity, no refrigeration, yes, obviously the kid’s still going to be sick.

The issue remains that one of my biggest points of focus as an academic is this idea of place and health. When we think about place and its effect on health, the traditional conceptualization of that is—I live in the East Bay in California, and there is a community just north of where I live called Richmond, where there is a bunch of refineries. The traditional conceptualization of place and health is there’s some harmful agent in the place that’s causing disease. That’s a great way of thinking about place and health, but another way to think about it is to think about it more from the social, economic and political relationships within a place.

If you think about rural Bihar, there are absolutely families that are way wealthier than other families. Even in the village where I work in, in Supaul, there are very wealthy families. In fact, they’re so wealthy that they have second or third homes in Delhi, Mumbai, et cetera. Yet, if you think about it from a relational perspective, they still don’t have a sewer network. They don’t have piped water. It’s because of the weak standing in society that these communities hold, that they don’t have that political power to demand the services that their urban counterparts have.

That’s a very roundabout answer to say, yes, I do think that we need specific focus on these specific interventions or verticals within development. Because if we don’t, then we’re not highlighting what’s lacking and the ways in which political, social and economic power operate together to deny people access to these resources and interventions. The sanitation challenge in rural India is different from the sanitation challenge in urban India, and that’s another reason why we need to focus on it because it’s not the same problem in the same place.

Building Broader Coalitions

RAJAGOPALAN: It is very difficult to answer the question with a silver bullet, which is what I’m getting from your work. But you wear two hats. You are both an academic and a researcher, and you’re also an activist who’s trying to build this broader organization to solve these problems.

Then my question is, when you wear your activist hat or the institution-building hat, is the answer to build broader coalitions, which is, there’s a sanitation intervention plus-plus stronger local governance, or plus-plus a way to solve the collective action problem for sewage networks, plus-plus economic growth and development overall for the area and so on? I know it’s very difficult to solve that in a single randomized trial or a single paper that you’re working on, but you wear many hats, so I thought you’re a good person to ask the question.

JAIN: Absolutely. Yes, that’s a great way of asking the question. The sanitation value chain is long and complicated. It’s not just about building a toilet and getting people to use it. Even if you have a public toilet like the ones we run, well, where does the waste go when it fills up the biogas tank? For that, we have to rely on the government. We have to rely on making sure that there’s a sewage plant or some network in the area that we can take the excess waste to. So it is absolutely a concerted effort on our part to build strong coalitions that can help us.

The best analogy I can give is, if I started a company to build a plane, if I wanted to build a brand-new plane, I’m not going to build the engine, the flaps, the wheels. I’m not going to do all of it myself. My goal is to build the plane, so I’m going to outsource different parts of that plane to different people. That’s the same with sanitation. We have to work with the government to say, “Look, we are getting people to use toilets, so we are the ones ending open defecation. But you have to be the ones to invest in all of the sewage trucks that are going to come empty our pits and take it to a centralized location so that it’s not just dumped in the Kosi River.”

In terms of talking about economic and social development, how do we have it so that it’s not only Dalit people who are working at the facilities, that are the ones operating the trucks? How do we do all of this together? Or if it is the fact that you’re going to only hire Dalit people to do this job, fine, then pay them fairly, right?


JAIN: Do not exploit their status as a low caste, as a marginalized caste to pay them a meager wage. Pay them a very fair wage for the work that they’re doing. It’s all tied in together in that way. Absolutely.

RAJAGOPALAN: Yes. I’ve been thinking about this more and more. More generally, what does a social epidemiologist do?

JAIN: Yes, that’s a great question. Social epidemiology is really about understanding the root causes of problems. The field developed as a response to traditional epidemiology—which I’m sure everyone now, because of the pandemic, can be called epidemiologists—understanding the causes of disease. But social epidemiology is really understanding the social, political, economic causes of disease. A lot of social epidemiologists are trying to understand what are the methods and theories that can be used to explain these phenomena in the real world.

As an example of social epidemiology and the contributions of the field, in the United States, when we’re trying to understand the associations of something with a disease, oftentimes you’ll control for race. Social epidemiologists will say, “Well, we don’t want to control for race because when you control for race, it’s basically just saying, ‘Black people or white people are at a greater or lower risk of a certain outcome.’” That’s all you’re saying. What we want to control for is racism. How do we actually account for racism as a cause of disease? That’s really hard because how do you quantify racism? How do you quantify casteism? How do you quantify neoliberalism? How do you quantify all of this? Or poverty?

RAJAGOPALAN: Poverty, mal-governance, lack of basic local governance, things like that.

JAIN: Exactly. There are so many papers that are saying, “Well, if you look at the DHS data in India and the National Family Health Survey, they have a wealth index.” Great, but is that a good measure of poverty? We don’t know. It’s really trying to understand how you quantify and measure the associations between these big forces and certain public health outcomes generally. That’s what social epidemiologists are trying to do on a day-to-day.

Further Research

RAJAGOPALAN: What are some of the other questions that you’re working on within your field?

JAIN: Sanitation is my bread and butter, if you will, and that’s what has been the main focus of my career for a long time now. But now, as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard, I’m trying to expand my research portfolio to look at the social determinants of maternal and child health in India with a specific focus on place and health.

One of my advisers at Harvard, Dr. S.V. Subramanian, who’s at the School of Public Health—him and I have a series of papers called “Small Area Variations.” One of them is in small area variations in dietary diversity in India. I’m sure a lot of the listeners know that the way in which India is designated is, there’s the country, there’s the state, there’s the districts, there’s then rural and urban communities, and then below that, there’s something else, generally speaking.

A lot of work looks at differences between states or differences between districts. What we don’t have a good sense of is even smaller than that. What’s going on within districts? Are there areas within districts where people are doing better? If you look at the district where I grew up working in India, Supaul in Bihar, that has two and a half million people.

RAJAGOPALAN: A district is not small in India.

JAIN: It’s not small. Some communities on that district are on the Kosi River and others are not. How does that affect access to education, access to healthcare, all those things? From a policy perspective, it’s really important for us to have as granular a view as we possibly can because districts are enormous in India. And we cannot assume that there’s a technical one-size-fits-all solution for an entire district. We have to look within.

We’ve started exploiting NFHS data to understand those differences, but we’re also looking at other geographic boundaries, for example, political constituencies. That, to us, is a really interesting under-researched geography or geographic boundary within India that has tons of policy relevance because that’s what demarcates where someone’s elected, right?

RAJAGOPALAN: Yes. Absolutely. One, the colonial district setup that we still use, it’s outdated. The districts are just too large, and we can’t think about these questions even at the two-, three-million scale sometimes. But the second part, I think, which I find fascinating about your far more local cluster-level analysis is, India is notorious for how segregated society is, especially when it comes to housing.

Even if you go to something like Dharavi, which is the biggest slum in India, you’re going to have sections of Dharavi which are Muslim predominant, where different castes live in different parts. There is a natural segregation and clustering which happens. Of course, depending on the cluster, it can be along different lines. Sometimes it’s language. Sometimes it’s caste. Sometimes it’s religion. Sometimes it’s just poverty and income levels, or occupation. For instance, in the case of, are you by the riverbed and so on. What is a good way to think about the size of the cluster?

JAIN: If we had the answer to that, so many problems would be solved. I’ll go back to my example of sanitation and try to use that to illustrate the challenges with this. We build shared sanitation facilities. Now, when we talk about access to that, who has access to that? Who is the community that it’s serving? Is it the households that are within a one-minute concentric circle, a three-minute concentric circle, five-minute concentric circle? What defines that community? What are the attributes from a caste perspective, from an income perspective?

It’s not as simple as to say that it’s a ward member or a Gram Sabha. It’s not that simple because there could be a ward member in the village—take Sukhpur, which is the village where I work in rural Bihar in Supaul. One ward member could be elected for households that are OBC [other backward classes] and that are also SC [scheduled castes]. We know historically that the outcomes and the lived realities and lived experiences of those people are going to be different.

There needs to be a way for us to understand how to differentiate those communities, and that is then going to influence how we think about who has access to a community toilet, who has access to an Anganwadi center, who has access to a school. That’s going to, I believe, require a lot more mixed-methods research and people who take anthropological approaches to understanding what defines a community. So we can start to understand if we build something here, who truly has access to this thing? Maybe what we need to do is build two of them so that both communities within this ward or whatever can actually access it.

RAJAGOPALAN: That’s a really thoughtful big-picture question, which can then help you study all the more specific questions that you’re looking at, which is what I find very fascinating about your larger research program.

Anoop, thank you so much for doing this and for sharing your research and all your ideas. This was such a pleasure.

JAIN: Thank you, Shruti. Thank you for having me.

About Ideas of India

Host Shruti Rajagopalan examines the academic ideas that can propel India forward. Subscribe in your favorite podcast app